Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z has alot of first going for it. It is the first DBZ game on the PS Vita, the first to feature eight fighters at once on the battlefield and the first to feature Super Saiyan God Goku, Bills and Whis as playable characters. After a long and decent run by Spike (developer of the much loved Tenkaichi series), this is the first DBZ game developed by new studio Artdink, who have worked on a number of Gundam portable titles for the PSP. For their first effort at tackling possibly one of the largest anime licenses of all time, the studio have done a great portraying the series as well as introducing a new style of play to the Dragon Ball universe we haven’t seen before.
Battle of Z plays fast and loose with the original story of Dragon Ball Z (as well as a couple of movies including the recent 2013 film Battle of Gods), opting to adapt certain moments of the story into missions. Nearly all the fights have been adapted to suit the new team battle aspect, meaning that it won’t just be Goku vs Frieza but your team of four fighters vs Frieza. There are 60 missions to complete all up with some missions following the original story, some missions putting you in the perspective of the villian and some missions revolving around what-if scenarios which are fun and offer something new for long time fans of the series. The variety of gameplay in the missions is also appreciated, with some missions tasking you to take out an army of weak soldiers, defeat an opponent within a time limit or defeat a giant boss character.
Small cutscenes introduce a mission and theres normally one or two cutscenes in the middle that transition into the next stage of the mission (such as your opponent transforming). The cutscenes are done well enough and are fun to watch as they don’t always stick to the original script and these changes are mostly well written. Basically if your looking to experience the story of DBZ in a detailed and cohesive way then know you won’t find that with Battle of Z. If you have been playing DBZ games for a while and know the story well, this is a great change of pace and helps keep the experience fresh.
A nice bonus is that the missions can sometimes change slightly depending on your actions. For example, in one mission your team of 4 fighters takes on Super Saiyan Gohan, Android 16 and Vegeta and Trunks. If you defeat Super Saiyan Gohan before Android 16, the mission will end as normal when you defeat all your opponents, but if you manage to defeat Android 16 first, Gohan will snap and power up to Super Saiyan 2 (just like in the manga) making the mission much harder. In a similar fashion, you also get extra dialogue between characters when choosing certain combinations of characters on cretain missions. It’s great to see the developers reward fans for knowing the series well and for imitating the events as they originally happened.
For those who read my impressions of the demo you might recall that I found the game to have a somewhat limited combat system, with each characters having the same basic abilities as well as two unique attakcs and a different special to make them feel different. If you ever get into a one vs one match online (which is possible if the creator of the room sets it up that way along with 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3 etc.) then the shallowness of the combat is fairly noticable, but it’s obvious the combat system wasn’t designed for these 1 on 1 encounters. When you play Battle of Z with 7 other fighters on the field the game is heaps of fun to play and can quite quickly get addictive. The team aspect somewhat makes up for the lack of combat options as the hectic battlefield means there’s never a moment where you don’t have a role to play; whether it’s stopping an attack on one of your teammates, joining a synchro rush to gang up on one opponent or reviving a fallen teammate, if you’re not locked in combat yourself there’s always a way you can be supporting your team. Characeter movement feels fluid and the design of the maps is well done with them being large enough to host the battle without ever feeling too large or too small.
Characters have one or two ‘types’ which dictate their specialty in battle from the categories of melee, ki, support and interference. For example, Goku is a melee type who can deal big damage with his combos and has unique attacks that are damaging as opposed to interrupting the opponent or giving your comrades health. These types also factor into your customisation opportunities, so as Goku is a melee type, he will be able to equip more melee attack damage support cards as opposed to a ki blast type who might only be able to equip one or two. It’s a creative system and surprisingly fits the world of Dragon Ball Z well, serving as a way to balance the character roster and ensure that no one in the 70 strong roster feels quite the same. Speaking of the roster it is suprisingly robust for being the first entry in a new series. There is a great mix of characters here and nearly all the essential ones are there with Zarbon, Dodoria, Vegito and a few forms being the most noticable exclusions.
Some of the games missions include giant boss battles against great apes or another large character, and this is the best that giant characters have been handled within a Dragon Ball Z game. The size of the bosses is menacing, their attacks are devastating and have a great variety, and taking them down is no easy task.
In terms of game modes the game is rather limited, especially if you don’t have access to online as you will be stuck with the single player mission mode and that’s it. There are three main game modes; single player offline mission mode where you are paired up with A.I, co-op mission mode where you take on the same missions but with a team of people and battle mode where its players vs players and A.I. filling in any gaps. A quick word on the A.I., they perform rather well as teammates with one exception, reviving you when you are knocked down. More often that not the A.I. will not make an effort to revive you, sometimes choosing to stand right next to you as you die. Supposedly levelling up your A.I. partners helps with the problem somewhat, but it is still a big problem and is incredibly frustrating when it costs you to lose a mission you are close to completing.
The online battle mode hosts four different modes within itself . Standard mode has the first team to lose all their retries (the stronger a team is the less retries they will have) lose the match, score mode has a team gaining points for each K.O. they can get on the other team (with stronger characters and builds giving away more points), a non team based battle royale where everyone fights for themselves and last but not least, Dragonball hunt mode where the first team to collect all seven Dragonballs scattered around the field wins. The last one is particularly interesting as players must balance chasing down the Dragonballs but also trying to defend the ones they have collected as well as stealing the ones from their opponents. Each mode is fun it its own right and you can play pretty much lag free if everyone has at least decent connections. Getting into a room can be annoying at times, and all too often it says the room is seeking members and then when you get in the room they turn out to be in a battle. You have no idea how long you will be waiting for as you get no information on how far along in the mission they are. A spectator like mode would have been great here but unfortunately that opportunity has been missed.
The glaring omission of any offline vs mode is surprising, as there is no way for you to battle an A.I. filled dream team, complete a mission with a friend sitting beside you or challenge that friend to a battle (except in the Vita version where ad-hoc is available for local play). The developers have stated there is no local multiplayer mode due to the amount of screen space required for the player, but this type of game is perfect for at least 2 players to play together locally and it is another missed opportunity.
The graphics in Battle of Z is a mixed bag. While some characters look spot on and have that ‘epic’ look about them (Super Saiyan Goku for example), some characters look less than average, especially in their facial features and it is a noticeable problem. Part of the problem is the cel shading style which is hit and miss. Sometimes it can look amazing and other times there are just too much levels to the shading and characters can look very blocky and poorly shaded because of it (as you can see in this screenshot of Frieza below).
The combat looks fluid and impactful and you will notice characters get blood stains and scratches on them as they rack up damage. All your favourite super beams and moves look equally impressive as they tear across the battlefied. Stages are rather large with a decent amount of destroyable objects such as rocks and buildings scattered on them and there is a nice variety of battlefields as well as different times of day to fight at (only on certain stages). One small touch that I enjoyed was the occasional earthquake on the exploding Planet Namek stage that would make the stage and the camera shake.
While you can customise character colours for their outfit which is fun to experiment with and a great addition, there are no alternate outfits to speak of which is a let down considering most past titles always looked to have at least one different outfit per character. Another dissapointment are the Ultimate attacks. Ultimate moves are already an annoyance in the game due to the way you have to buy a usable item to use one and only certain characters can pull them off, but when you do manage to pull one off they lack the impact and epicness you think they would have. You can search them up on YouTube and have a look for yourself, but don’t expect anything amazing.
Menus look nice and are presented fairly well but the main mission menu isn’t very intuitive and it might take you a small amount of time for you to find out how to customise characters and navigate the missions. There are also a fair amount of grammer mistakes in alot of the text, most noticably in character profiles and moments when what the characters are saying does not match the subtitles. Not a deal breaker by any means but there are enough of these errors for it to be noticable.
The music in the game is a combination of new music and old tracks from the various Raging Blast titles. The new music is all fairly good and fits the game well and it seems they have brought over the premium selection of tracks from the previous games to combine for a good soundtrack that is good but you probably won’t remember long after. The animated opening clip features the new version of Cha La Head Cha La which fans of the series will definitely appreciate. The rare ability to play your own music in the game (even when online which previous games didn’t allow) is very welcome, as you can play the original anime OST if you like or any music you desire (beating on your opponents to dubstep or some Disturbed is very satisfying).
In terms of voice work, the game features both the English and Japanese voice tracks (except the Vita version which will feature only one track or the other depending on your region) and the performances from the original cast are spot on, with voice actors delivering lines well for the most part. The English voices given to new characters Bills and Whis (that have only ever spoken Japanese before this game) match the Japanese voices perfectly and the casting department should be praised for doing a great job. All the games sound effects from powering up to shooting off kamehamehas are authentic to the source material and everything fits well and is in place.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is a great entry into a new type of series. While the somewhat weak combat offering, graphical inaccuricies and lack of an offline vs mode may deter people who are passionate about those features, the enjoyable team based gameplay should make it up to those who can overlook those drawbacks. The addition of missions and the online co-op has been well implemented and the challenge the game gives is very welcome. Unless you really dwell on the negatives it is impossible to not have fun with this title and boths fans and non fans of the series alike should find plenty of enjoyment within Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z. With Artdink’s new found experience, there is definitely potential for a sequel in this series to build on the already strong foundation laid here and produce what could be one of the best Dragonball Z games ever.
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